The Sexualized 4-Year-Old?

11/08/2011 07:49 am ET | Updated Jan 08, 2012

A recent study by researchers at Kenyon College in Ohio has found that nearly one-third of all girls' clothing being sold at major retail shops can be considered "sexy". The study states that most of the offending clothing either emphasizes a girl's (lack of a) chest or her (lack of a) booty. Kid's stores are abound with low-cut dresses, short skirts, halter tops, and jeans with embellished back pockets (this draws the attention to the butt).

Personally I choose not to buy my toddlers bikinis, opting instead for those hideously old-fashioned suits with the attached ruffled skirts. However, I slightly question the validity of the study. Abiding by the rules of the study this dress would be deemed "sexy" , since its empire waist and ruched top creates an illusion of breasts. Similarly, this spaghetti-strapped Gap dress would make the list for baring too much skin.

I am not sure how chaste of an upbringing the researchers had, but I do not believe that this trend is something new and that three or four decades ago we weren't wearing tube tops, and super skinny jeans (the ones with the ankle zippers), bodysuits, and ripped t-shirts that bared one pre-teen shoulder. In fact I distinctly remember my eleven-year-old self sporting a super-short pair of neon Bodyglove shorts with two hand prints on each butt cheek to 6th grade (and I was a rather innocent tween).

I might even go as far to say that the current trend in children's clothing is more modest than that of my childhood. Most little girls want to emulate the grown women in their lives and hence kid's clothing styles often imitate those of the adults. While the late 70s and early 80s fashion bared a lot of skin, much of today's women's fashion is focused on flattering the body style and minimizing (covering) problem areas. I can honestly assert that the female role models in my children's lives reveal less skin than the grown-ups I encountered being raised by my hippie parents.

When it comes to my own children's clothing, I mostly allow them to exert control. While my 4-year-old does own one halter style ballet dress (which she insists on wearing over a t-shirt, to combat its itch factor), one of her favorite dresses is an ankle length, stiff cotton, pink and white striped prairie style dress with puffed sleeves that stop just below the elbow. Our babysitter and I lovingly refer to this as her Big-Love-Mormon-Fundamentalist-Compound-Dress. The fashion sense I am trying to impart to my daughters is that of comfortability with flare, not skin with bling.

My husband is more on the conservative side and becomes visibly distressed when the girls ask to play with make-up and jewelry. While he insists that this is making them look like tramps, I have difficulty seeing the harm. When the make-up is self applied, the girls look about as slutty as a clown at a school carnival. My eldest uses the eye shadow to create one long uni-brow from temple to temple, and the lipstick is applied from the bottom of the philtrum to the bottom tip of chin. Sexy, maybe only to the blind.

In her book, "Cinderella Ate my Daughter," Peggy Orenstien writes about the new tween role models, such as Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, are overtly sexual and assisting in guiding our daughters to their early sexualization. Again, I don't need, nor want, to see images of Miley pole dancing or posing nude for Vanity Fair, but I also vividly recall my 7-year-old icon, Madonna. My best friend and I spent many afternoons dressing like her and choreographing dances to Like a Virgin and Material Girl. I even remember performing a lip-sync dance to Who's That Girl at our elementary school talent show.

Orenstein further contends that the dolls girls now play with are more blatantly sexual. Growing up in the 80's, Barbies were a must have in every girl's bedroom. Today Barbies are still in fashion- to the five-and-under crowd. As girls enter elementary school these dolls are being replaced by Bratz and Moxie Dolls, which have bigger eyes, fuller lips, and sexier clothing. Even though I only had the traditional Barbies to play with, the horror flick plots my friends and I reenacted with Barbie, Ken, and Skipper were anything but innocent.

Maybe I am being naive and relying too much on my hope that my two young daughters are going to have many more years of innocence, and that the dreaded sex talk is still at least a decade away. Perhaps the sexuality that Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus expose to our young ones is worse than that of Madonna (check out this photo) and Cyndi Lauper (or this one), but I am not yet convinced. It wasn't too long ago that my little girlfriends and I were tromping around in our Rainbow Brite t-shirts and Daisy Duke shorts singing "Like a virgin, touched for the very first time."